SB 1080 kicks into action next week… and Arizona will finally join the 47 other states that have laws on the books restricting the use of smart phones while driving.  It’ll ban brand-new teen drivers from using their smart phone while driving for the first 6 months of their license (if they’re under 18).  Using the phone in an emergency will still be OK.  Tickets can only be issued if the driver committed another violation.  Prior to this, the only other limitation in AZ to this kind of distraction applied to school bus drivers. 

We supported SB 1080 because of the evidence that this would be an effective public health intervention.  Data in this NHTSA summary document that shows that teens are the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes and have the highest prevalence of cell phone use while driving.  A 2003 study of US crash data called Driver distraction and crashes: An assessment of crash databases and review of the literature found that driver distraction is a contributing factor in 8% to 13% of crashes including cell phone distractions of between 1.5 to 5%.

Between now and our Fall Conference & Annual Meeting on September 28, our Public Health Policy Committee will be discussing proposing a member Resolution at the Conference that will urge Arizona lawmakers to go further and put in place a law restricting the use of cell phones while driving for all ages of drivers- not just minors in their 1st 6 months of driving.

The Governor in his signing statement for SB 1080 suggested he might be supportive of extending the restrictions to all minors (not just minors in their 1st 6 months of driving).  In part, the signing statement said:

“…Distracted driving is a growing problem in Arizona and nationally. I generally believe that public awareness and education campaigns are a more effective remedy to prevent accidents and save lives than blanket laws that let politicians feel like they’ve checked the box, and then move on to the next issue. For that reason, I am skeptical of large-scale bans on texting while driving — I just don’t think they work. But this bill is different. The state already regulates a number of things when it comes to early driving by teens. And for good reason. For our youth, these laws can act as a teacher. In fact, I’d be in favor of a law that goes further, banning texting while driving for all minors.  Driving is a privilege for our youth, and they are still the responsibility of their parents, financially and otherwise, before the age of 18.”

This signing statement suggest that we have some executive branch support for extending the restrictions to at least all drivers under 18.  Not the full intervention (restrictions for all ages) as is in the case in most other states, but a start.